Posted November 12, 2015
By Cyveillance Analyst
A new doll from Mattel, the “Hello Barbie,” available in December, demonstrates just how ubiquitous Internet-connected webcams and microphones are becoming. At the push of a button, the doll records whatever a child says and sends it via Wi-Fi to the cloud, resulting in a computer-generated response that offers the illusion of an actual conversation. Mattel claims the doll is perfectly safe, but social media has been ablaze with a campaign focused on the potential threats to privacy that it poses. While instances of webcam hacking aren’t new, toys like this and a recent uptick in IP camera trolling and webcam hacking cases highlights the vulnerabilities in unsecured Internet-connected cameras and microphones, no matter where they’re found.
How Does Webcam Hacking Happen?
Webcam hacking occurs when a malicious actor gains unlawful access to an IP camera through a baby monitor, security camera, or integrated webcam in a laptop monitor, for example. Breached IP cameras are often connected using an unsecure Wi-Fi signal or are broadcasting online via obscure, though discoverable, applications that do not require secure credentials to use. Malicious hackers can breach webcams a variety of ways, typically using phishing and social engineering attacks. They can also utilize search engines such as ShodanHQ.com to find exploits on forums or YouTube, or buy tools that are designed to probe IP addresses. One webcam hacking incident in 2010 began with a social engineering campaign that spread a virus that allowed the hacker to gain total control over the computer.
There are dozens of public forums that explain how to undertake IP camera trolling and webcam trolling. Some websites offer training and software for as little as $5. Amateur hackers, script kiddies, or activists can obtain prepackaged web-hosted applications or watch free instructional videos with minimal technical expertise. Last year, nearly 100 people worldwide were arrested in an operation targeting the developers and users of Blackshades, a kit of malware tools sold online that easily enables webcam hacking. Although the Blackshades website was shut down, plenty of other tools are available that easily enable remote access.
What Are the Motives for IP Camera Trolling and Webcam Hacking?
Sometimes the motive for IP camera trolling and webcam hacking is to play pranks on unsuspecting victims. The hacker may attempt to scare members of the household by saying disturbing things or using a ghostly voice, commentating on events happening at that moment, or interrupting and inserting themselves in a conversation.
While this may seem like a harmless prank at first, there are much larger consequences at stake. Aside from the hundreds of IP camera trolling and webcam hacking videos that are available on YouTube and other video repositories, if malicious hackers are more criminally inclined, they can use their access to the compromised system as a gateway for a number of malicious activities. This can include using images and recordings collected from the cameras for blackmail or extortion, as in the 2013 Miss Teen USA case. Furthermore, breaching an IP-connected camera can provide access to the interior space of a home or office that could enable a bad actor to carry out physical attacks. This is especially important when it comes to protecting executives and their families as they are frequently targets of activists and pranksters.
How Can You Secure a Webcam or Microphone?
Here are a few tips to help you secure your webcam or integrated microphone:
- Require a login to remotely view videos or audio from your webcam or microphone
- Although some malicious programs can mask camera activity, look for any indications that your webcam might be in use when you’re not actively using it
- Update webcam usernames and passwords (use a strong password – make sure it’s not set to the default)
- Keep firmware updated to ensure your IP cameras and webcams are using the latest operating systems, which often include security patches
- If available on your model, specify permissions for which Mac addresses can access your applications or web streams
- If remotely viewing a camera feed using public Wi-Fi, use a VPN service to hide your web traffic from malicious actors
- Put a sticker over the camera on your laptop to cover it or turn off the device with the camera completely and unplug it when it’s not in use
- If setting up an IP-connected toy for a child, understand where the data is stored and how it might be used or accessed by third parties